The U.S. Soccer Federation apologized after it contended in court documents that women on its national team had lesser responsibilities and physical abilities than their male counterparts, an assertion that drew widespread criticism and sparked a player protest.
“On behalf of U.S. Soccer, I sincerely apologize for the offense and pain caused by language in this week’s court filing, which did not reflect the values of our federation or our tremendous admiration of our women’s national team,” the statement said. “Our WNT players are incredibly talented and work tirelessly, as they have demonstrated time and again from their Olympic gold medals to their World Cup titles.”
Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. also criticized the USSF and The Procter & Gamble Co. issued a statement supporting the women’s quest for equal pay.
American players wore their warmup jerseys inside out for the national anthems and team photo before a 3-1 win over Japan in an Olympic prep match. Players hid the USSF crest on the jerseys but allowed the four stars—one for each World Cup title—to be visible.
“I think it just was a powerful message,” said forward Carli Lloyd, a two-time FIFA Player of the Year.
Players later issued a group statement explaining their action.
“We wanted to stand together as a team and make a statement on behalf of all women and girls hat the federation‘s comments are unacceptable,” the said in the statement issued by spokeswoman Molly Levinson. “We love this sport and this country, and we cannot stand for this misogynistic treatment.”
Coca-Cola had called the federation’s assertion in documents filed earlier this week “unacceptable and offensive.”
“We have asked to meet with them immediately to express our concerns. The Coca-Cola Co. is firm in its commitment to gender equality, fairness and women’s empowerment in the United States and around the world and we expect the same from our partners,” Coca-Cola said in a statement.
Coca-Cola has been a long-term partner with the USSF as well as a global sponsor of the World Cup since 1974. Other sponsors followed, including Budweiser and Secret.
In court documents filed Monday in response to the players’ motion for a summary judgment, the USSF said the women claimed their ability level is the same as the men “by ignoring the materially higher level of speed and strength required to perform the job of an MNT player.”
“A reasonable juror could conclude that the job of MNT player requires materially different skill and more responsibility than plaintiffs’ job does, while also taking place under materially different working conditions,” USSF lawyers wrote.
Cordeiro announced the USSF had retained the law firm of Latham & Watkins, the firm where former USSF president Alan Rothenberg is a retired partner.
“I have made it clear to our legal team that even as we debate facts and figures in the course of this case, we must do so with the utmost respect not only for our women’s national team players but for all female athletes around the world,” Cordeiro said.
Cordeiro’s statement was issued after USSF sponsors started to show their displeasure.
“The comments made by U.S. Soccer do not align with our values, nor our point of view on women’s soccer,” Monica Rustgi, Budweiser’s vice president of marketing, said in a statement. “We champion and admire the athleticism of the women in this sport as we find them to be among the best athletes in the world.”
Procter & Gamble, which supports the USSF through its Secret deodorant brand, last year donated $529,000 to help close the gender pay gap: $23,000 for each of the 23 players on the U.S. World Cup roster.
“We know there are many things that make women sweat—but inequality should never be one of them,” P&G said in a statement to The Associated Press. “We believe that women are deserving of equal pay and equal opportunity and we’re supportive of all those who courageously fight for this.”
Players filed the gender discrimination lawsuit in federal court in Los Angeles last year, claiming they are paid less than their counterparts on the men’s national team. The women are seeking more than $66 million in damages under the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and a trial is scheduled for May 5.
The USSF says disparities in pay between the men and women are the result of separate collective bargaining agreements with different terms. The women’s team receives salaries and benefits the men don’t.
The federation also cites FIFA’s World Cup prize money—$38 million awarded to the French Football Federation for the men’s title in 2018 and $4 million to the USSF for last year’s women’s title—also contributes to the disparity. The USSF claims it bases bonuses for the women in the tournament on the prize money the federation receives.